OCIP, Phnom Penh
Mahatma Gandhi once said “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” This trip to Cambodia has indeed taught me much, be it about myself, about a different culture but also about humanity. Cambodia is definitely vastly different as compared to the hustle-bustle lifestyle in Singapore. Something as insignificant as clean water and electricity is hard to come by in the rural villages over there. Being forced to adapt as quickly as we can to a completely different lifestyle took a lot of courage and self-control, it was tough but we all pulled through and became a much better person.
We visited the genocide museum and killing fields about the Khmer Rouge Regime in 1970s, we were all quite confused as to why we were there especially since this is a service learning trip and not for leisure and sight-seeing. Eventually, we learnt that the main point was for us to understand better why Cambodia is still a third world country and is struggling to develop into a modern place like Singapore is today. Also, we learnt about how to be a good leader, influential people can change lives but it is up to us to decide whether or not to use our power to save the world or to harm it. Being a good leader requires commitment, character, competency and ability to connect the entire team. For one to be able to lead, we must be committed, maintain a positive attitude and be able to motivate or inspire others, and ensure that everyone is working towards a common goal, through which effective communication can then come in handy.
The next 6 days were spent in Baray, a village in between Phnom Penh and Siam Reap. We did not know what to expect but did prepare ourselves for a lot of bugs and the scorching heat. In the end, it was indeed way worse than what we had expected. The water we used to bathe was yellow, not only were there bugs but there were also geckos and rats, the mattresses had bed bugs and there were frequent blackouts due to short circuits. The physical conditions were horrible but they made us tougher and stronger. We learnt how fortunate we are that we have clean water and proper living conditions and yet Cambodians have to make do with whatever they have. It was difficult and exhausting but we learnt to persevere and be mature about it. We also went to the village school to paint the walls and teach the children English. I honestly have to admit this is my favorite part of the entire trip. Just to see the children smile and hug you or say a simple “thank you” is so heart-warming and touching. I did bond with the children a lot and I was devastated to leave them on the last day. They are so sweet, adorable and kind-hearted that I can truly say they had touched my heart like how I hope I did to theirs. Befriending the little kids and playing with them through their lessons and the small breaks here and there, I realized how carefree they are, they are so relaxed and simply enjoying their childhood. Yes they may be lacking in the technology and civilization but at the very least, they enjoy life and are happy with whatever they are doing. The painting job was also very tough because we had to sloth under the hot sun and paint several coats but it was still a very memorable experience since we all put in our sweat, blood and tears to help make the school look much prettier to encourage the children to come to school more often. I really experienced the spirit of serving with my whole being. I learnt the importance of being selfless, I may not be comfortable or having fun but I am serving their community and trying to improve their lives, my well-being comes secondary. I also learnt the true meaning of being patient, which is really tough because we all come from a very quick-paced society like Singapore. We have to be patient with one another and also with the children because of the language barrier, we needed to frequently repeat ourselves just to bring a message across.
From the entire trip, I gained a lot of insights and do feel like a new person as I learnt so much that I can apply in my own life. I have learnt to be appreciative of whatever we have, we are very fortunate to be living in a very developed country like Singapore and need not worry about lack of food or consumable water, we are also lucky to be surrounded by people who love and care of us. Being appreciative and through that always give thanks for the things we are blessed with and often, these things are those which we normally take for granted. We should also be sincere in whatever we do, be it serving others or a mere sign of gratitude. We tend to forget about the smallest sign of humanity or act of kindness but it is these things that go a long way. The Cambodians are resilient, modest and always display the act of kindness and humility, even to strangers. They are tolerant and persevere through tough times like after the Khmer Rouge Regime. All of these traits we can learn and apply to our own lives, sticking to our goal and never giving up, being kind-hearted and modest, giving thanks for whatever we have and never taking anything for granted. Live life happily and never forsake one’s happiness for anything lesser. I will forever remember this trip as it has definitely changed my life.